Tahiti Island vacation is distinguished by a modern blend of French culture with the laid-back charm and pace of a Polynesian island. Despite the chic designer shops and boutiques in the downtown capital Papeete, the islanders still hold fast to a more traditional Polynesian lifestyle which perpetuates the charm of the islands.
Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia, as well as the economic, cultural and political hub of the country. Since the 1840s, the waterfront has been a key area of development of Papeete. Today the Boulevard Pomare, which surrounds the harbor, offers boutiques, restaurants and a lush park (Place Toata – where the dance competitions are held in July).
A great way to mingle with the locals is to join the nightly throngs at the cruise ship center at Vai’ete Square on Boulevard Pomare and rue Gaugain. While there, you can sample food from les roulettes - portable meal wagons, one of the most authentic and least expensive ways to dine in Tahiti.
Other highlights within the city include le Hotel du Ville (town hall); the bustling Marche Municipal (the central market – best times to visit are early mornings from 5 to 7am); Place Tarahoi (French Polynesia’s Government Center) and le Musee de la Perle Robert Wan (Pearl Museum). Named for the pioneer of the industry, it is the only museum in the world devoted entirely to the history and culture of pearls.
Centre Vaima is Papeete’s first shopping mall and the standard for upscale boutiques that attract the city’s European residents as well as tourists from all over the world. For late night entertainment, Papeete offers everything from upscale, private discos (suitable for tourists) to lounges, bars, and more.
When it comes to food, Tahiti Island has the widest selection of cuisines in French Polynesia. Here you can find anything from Chinese food to continental European food and fine French cuisine. The multi-cultural cuisine of Papeete can be sampled at many fine restaurants, including L’O a la Bouche (French); Auberge du Pacifique (French/Tahitian); Le Lotus (Continental); or Le Rubis (Regional French). Transport and reservations can be arranged from most of the area’s hotels. Tahiti has no shortage of the deluxe hotels and resorts, including Hotel Le Meridien Tahiti, Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Hotel, Tahiti Beachcomber Park Royal Hotel, the Radisson Plaza Resort and the Sheraton Hotel Tahiti.
Although Tahiti covers a mere 15% of the total land mass of French Polynesia, it is home to 65% of the country’s total population. The island is made up of two extinct volcanic craters joined by an isthmus, with Tahiti Nui, the larger of the two, to the northwest and Tahiti Iti (little Tahiti) to the southeast. The dramatic peaks rimming the crater of Tahiti Nui are the tallest in the country, reaching over 7,300 ft.
A paved road circles the periphery of Tahiti Nui, (72 miles) and two roads also extend down the northern and southern coasts of Tahiti Iti. Circle Island tours follow this road, or visitors can choose to drive on their own. Other methods of exploring the island include motorboat and yacht charters, outrigger canoe tours of Matavai Bay and helicopter tours.
Northeast of Papeete is a vista point up the Fautaua River Valley that affords a view of the Diademe, the signature peak on the island. Nearby is a turnoff for the road to the ancestral home of the Pomare dynasty and the tomb of King Pomare V, the last monarch of Tahiti.
One Tree Hill, so named by Captain Cook in 1769, offers a commanding view over Papeete and over to Moorea. Point Venus, the northern most spot on the island, was the historic landing area for many of the early foreign explorers. Continuing along the northeast coast is Papenoo, one of the island’s largest villages.
Situated just by Taharuu, a popular surfing beach, is the island’s only golf course, Atimaonou. From here, a paved road leads to Arahurahu Marae, an ancient worship site restored to its original appearance. Another “must-see” is the Lagoonarium, a series of underwater rooms where visitors can glimpse the colorful and teeming underwater life of the lagoon.